Thursday, 12 July 2012
The Government's jobs initiative of May 2011 was aimed at restoring confidence in the economy, providing opportunities for re-skilling those who had lost their jobs and assisting people in getting back to work. Key measures in the jobs initiative included halving the rate of employer's PRSI on earnings up to €356 per week, a reduction in the lower rate of VAT on certain goods and services, targeted capital spending on labour-intensive projects and the introduction of the national internship scheme, JobBridge. Additional education and training places were also provided for those who were seeking to upskill. The jobs initiative was a whole-of-Government initiative and any formal evaluation of its effects would have to be conducted on that basis. However, the impact of the measures in the initiative is being seen across a range of sectors. The quarterly national household survey shows a year-on-year increase of 8,700 in the numbers employed in the accommodation and food service sectors. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland has estimated that the additional €30 million allocated to the better energy programme under the jobs initiative supported the creation and retention of an extra 2,000 jobs for the duration of 2011. Over 8,400 interns have commenced placements under the JobBridge programme since it was launched in July of last year. Feedback from the Department of Social Protection indicates that 1,196 of the 3,131 people who have already completed JobBridge have gone directly into employment with the host organisation or elsewhere. Over 3,500 people recently graduated from the first round of Springboard programmes which were put in place in 2011 and the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, recently announced a further roll-out of the Springboard initiative with an additional 6,000 places in 2012.
The Government has built on the jobs initiative this year with the action plan for jobs. The action plan has set a target of supporting 100,000 net new jobs in the economy by 2016.
I apologise for my late arrival in the Chamber. I note the Minister's response but the figures are pretty damning. The recent official statistics which, if anything, understate the case, point to a level of unemployment which is the highest in 20 years. They also indicate that half those people who are now unemployed have been unemployed for a year or more and one third are unemployed for two or more years. In addition, there is plenty of evidence that thousands of young people are hiding out in the education system and the Government has increased the number of people on training schemes - which I welcome but it does tend to massage the unemployment figures. The Minister will be aware of the remarks issued by ISME after the recent CSO figures. ISME described the Government's employment strategy as a shambles. He will be aware of the remarks from ICTU which said it is now time for the Government to start tackling the unemployment problem. He will be aware of the remarks of the Chambers of Commerce Ireland which described the situation as a crisis.
We have had the jobs budget, the jobs initiative, the 273 proposals in the jobs action plan but the figures do not lie. In view of the stark situation and in view of the comments from people across the board from one spectrum of society to another who are all uniformly critical of the Government's performance to date, will the Minister accept that his strategies are not working and it is time to try some new ones?
I certainly do not accept anything of the sort. We have inherited an economy in which under the stewardship of the Deputy's party unemployment rose from 4% to 14%, an increase of 10% in a three-year period. A total of 300,000 jobs were lost under that regime. The economy's underlying structure was severely damaged and there is a lot of work to be done to fix it. Nobody ever indicated that this would be fast or sudden. We have a huge amount of work to do in fixing the banking system, the public finances and access to finance, as well as getting small companies back on track, and the Government has confronted that. For the first time, the public service is holding itself to account in every quarter for the delivery of targeted measures to improve the employment area. That is having an impact.
Private sector employment is now growing in this economy after years of decline. The IDA has had a record year and two years of significant employment. Figures for the year to date indicate that it will replicate last year's record performance. Enterprise Ireland is also turning the corner in terms of the expansion not only of exports but also of employment among the companies. We are making headway, but it will be a slow process. The Government always recognised that.
Everything seems to be turning the corner and going ahead, but the problem is growing. Allied to that, as has been mentioned, approximately 200 people per day are leaving the country. If one takes the statistics for the number of people who were employed in this economy from the time the Minister's party left office in 1997 to when it returned to office last year, a total of 325,000 more people were at work in the Irish economy. However, that is history. If the Minister wishes to have a discussion on history, I will happily engage in it but I am interested in the present and the future.
Can I draw the Minister's attention to a recent statement by the Taoiseach? In that statement he gave a commitment that over the next three years, which is probably the lifetime of this Government given that the average term would bring it to three years from now, he will have put 75,000 people who are now long-term unemployed back to work. Where stands that promise? Does the Minister still stand over that promise?
That is a target in the Pathways to Work programme, which was introduced a number of months ago. It is a target for 2015. It indicates that we have now completely reformed the employment services that were inherited from the previous Government. We now have an employment service that is far more streamlined and is focused on identifying those who are at high risk of entering long-term unemployment and seeking to assist them. A number of programmes have been introduced to support that. They include JobBridge, Springboard, intensive engagement with people who have fallen unemployed, improvements in the Revenue job assist scheme and the promotion of those schemes to get long-term unemployed people back into the workforce. This will be a difficult challenge, but the Government is facing it squarely. Yes, we would love to be doing better in many ways but we recognise that the scale of the disaster inflicted on this economy by a Government of which the Deputy was a member has taken a huge toll. We must fix many of the basic systems that were broken and put them back in working order.